Pointe du Hoc
In Normandy, France between Omaha Beach and Utah Beach, the Pointe du Hoc provided the German forces with Artillery cover from its vertical cliff. Six Canon de 155 Grande Puissance Filloux (GPF) mle.1917 WW1 French captured Artillery Guns were installed as well as many Fortress strength bunkers. Like many Batteries, the guns were installed in tempory field type emplacements first, then the Organisation Todt built the Batterie up around them.
The site was manned by the 2nd battery of the Heeres-Küsten-Artillerie 1260 commanded by Oberleutnant Frido Ebeling. HKAA.1260 was also responsible for Batterie Riva-Bella (1./HKAA 1260), Batterie Mont-Fleury (3./HKAA 1260) and Batterie Longues-sur-Mer (4./HKAA 1260).
Due to a translation error by the allied forces “Hoc” was incorrectly named “Hoe” on many photos and maps that we have used for research for this page. Due to the batteries range, it had the ability to strike any allied invasion fleet and had to be destroyed. Early surveillance and bombings helped the intelligence officers make a detailed plan on taking out the batterie before or on D-Day.
So how would the allied forces get up the cliffs? Engineers worked closely with the London Fire brigade and modified the DUKW to carry extension ladders, these were borrowed from the Fire brigade. They also modified landing craft to be able to lunch rocket-propelled rope ladders. The Rangers trained for the cliff assault on the Isle of Wight, under the direction of British liaison officer Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Hoult Trevor. He will join the US Rangers assaulting Pointe du Hoc on D-Day.
The SHAEF planners invested in inelegance gathering to ensure the most up to date information was available to the US Rangers and the supporting teams. From February to June Allied aerial reconnaissance gave SHAEF the best idea of what was going on at the pointe and showed that the gun positions were, in fact, being upgraded from the temporary open positions to casemated. French resistance reported that some of the guns had been moved and in many of the allied maps this is also indicated. However a single 155mm gun in this batterie would need to have silenced to protect the beach landings at Omaha and Utah.
Ranger battalions commanded by Lieutenant Colonel James Earl Rudder were picked for the invasion and assult of Pointe du Hoc. The plan called for the three companies of Rangers to be landed by sea at the foot of the cliffs, scale them using ropes, ladders, and grapples whilst under enemy fire, and engage the enemy at the top of the cliff. This was to be carried out before the main landings.
To support the assault on the cliffs a full bombardment of the battery was planned. The aim was to try and destroy as much of the battery by aerial and Naval bombardment. Just over 800 tones of bombs were dropped on the pointe between the 5th and 7th of June. This was also supported by Naval bombardment on the 6th of June. Below is the Battery bombardment plan for Operation Neptune (D-day), I have circled Pointe du Hoc in orange and marked where it is listed as number 1 as a target. The plan also shows the arcs of fire possible from the ranges based on what they believed to be in action at each of them.
The 6th of June
D, E and F companies of 2nd Ranger Battalion approach the Normandy coast in a flotilla of twelve craft. Col. James Earl Rudder was in the lead boat. He was not supposed to be there. Lt. Gen. Clarence Huebner, CO of the 1st Division and in overall command at Omaha Beach, had forbidden Rudder to lead D, E, and F Companies of the 2nd Rangers into Pointe-du-Hoc, saying, "We're not going to risk getting you knocked out in the first round." "I'm sorry to have to disobey you, sir," Rudder had replied, "but if I don't take it, it may not go."
Strong tides and navigation errors mean the initial assault arrives late and the 5th Ranger Battalion as well A and B companies from 2nd Battalion move to Omaha Beach instead. The error was costly. It caused the rangers to be thirty-five minutes late in touching down, which gave the German defenders time to recover from the bombardment, climb out of their dugouts, and man their positions. It also caused the flotilla to run a gauntlet of fire from German guns along four kilometers of coastline. One of the four DUKWs was sunk by a 20mm shell. Sgt. Frank South, a nineteen-year-old medic, recalled, "We were getting a lot of machine-gun fire from our left flank, alongside the cliff, and we could not, for the life of us, locate the fire." Lieutenant Eikner remembered, "balling water with our helmets, dodging bullets, and vomiting all at the same time."
Only one of the DUKW with its extending lader made it to shore and extended its lade., Sgt. William Stivinson climbed to the top to fire his machine gun. He was swaying back and forth like a metronome, German tracers whipping about him. Lt. Elmer "Dutch" Vermeer described the scene: "The ladder was swaying at about a forty-five-degree angle -- both ways. Stivinson would fire short bursts as he passed over the cliff at the top of the arch, but the DUKW floundered so badly that they had to bring the fire ladder back down."
So it was up to the rocket-propelled rope ladders to get the Rangers to the top. To get to the ropes, the Rangers had to disembark and cross the narrow strip of beach to the base of the cliff. To get there they had two problems to overcome. The first was a German machine gun on the rangers' left flank, firing across the beach. It killed or wounded fifteen men as it swept bullets back and forth across the beach.
Colonel Rudder was one of the first to make it to the beach. With him was Col. Travis Trevor, a British commando who had assisted in the training of the rangers. He began walking the beach, giving encouragement. Rudder described him as "a great big [six feet four inches], black-haired son of a gun -- one of those staunch Britishers." Lieutenant Vermeer yelled at him, "How in the world can you do that when you are being fired at?"
"I take two short steps and three long ones," Trevor replied, "and they always miss me." Just then a bullet hit him in the helmet and drove him to the ground. He got up and shook his fist at the machine gunner, hollering, "You dirty son of a bitch." After that, Vermeer noted, "He crawled around like the rest of us."
Germans on the top managed to cut two or three of the ropes, while others tossed grenades over the cliff, but BAR men at the base and machine-gun fire from Satterlee kept most of them back from the edge. They had not anticipated an attack from the sea, so their defensive positions were inland. In addition, the Rangers had tied pieces of fuse to the grapnels and lit them just before firing the rockets; the burning fuses made the Germans think that the grapnels were some kind of weapon about to explode, which kept them away.
Within five minutes rangers were at the top; within fifteen minutes most of the fighting men were up. One of the first to make it was a country preacher from Tennessee, Pvt. Ralph Davis.
Germans were firing sporadically from the trenches and regularly from the machine-gun position on the eastern edge of the fortified area and from a 20mm anti-aircraft gun on the western edge, but the rangers ignored them to get to the casemates.
When they got to the casemates, to their amazement they found that the "guns" were telephone poles. Tracks leading inland indicated that the 155mm cannon had been removed recently, almost certainly as a result of the preceding air bombardment. The Rangers never paused. In small groups they began moving inland toward their next objective, the paved road that connected Grandcamp and Vierville, to set up roadblocks to prevent German reinforcements from moving to Omaha.
At the base of the cliff at around 0730, Lieutenant Eikner sent out a message by radio: "Praise the Lord." It signified that the Rangers were on top of the cliff.
At 0745, Colonel Rudder moved his command post up to the top, establishing it in a crater on the edge of the cliff. Captain Block also climbed a rope to the top and set up his aid station in a two-room concrete emplacement. It was pitch black and cold inside; Block worked by flashlight in one room, using the other to hold the dead.
The fighting within the fortified area was confused and confusing. Germans would pop up here, there, everywhere, fire a few rounds, then disappear back underground. Rangers could not keep in contact with each other. Movement meant crawling. There was nothing resembling a front line. Germans were taken prisoner; so were some rangers. In the observation post, a few Germans held out despite repeated attempts to overrun the position. Take a tour below of the Observation position and see the damage from the battle.
The worst problem was the machine gun on the eastern edge of the fortified area, the same gun that had caused so many casualties on the beach. Now it was sweeping back and forth over the battlefield whenever a ranger tried to move. Rudder told Lieutenant Vermeer to eliminate it.
Vermeer set out with a couple of men. "We moved through the shell craters and had just reached the open ground where the machine gun could cover us also when we ran into a patrol from F Company on the same mission. Once we ran out of shell holes and could see nothing but a flat 200-300 yards of open ground in front of us, I was overwhelmed with the sense that it would be impossible to reach our objective without heavy losses." The heaviest weapon the Rangers had was a BAR, hardly effective over that distance.
Fortunately, orders came from Rudder to hold up a moment. An attempt was going to be made to shoot the machine gun off the edge of that cliff with guns from a destroyer. That had not been tried earlier because of the shore-fire-control party, headed by Capt. Jonathan Harwood from the artillery and Navy Lt. Kenneth Norton, had been put out of action by a short shell. But by now Lieutenant Eikner was on top and he had brought with him an old World War I signal lamp with shutters on it. He thought he could contact the USS Satterlee with it. Rudder told him to try.
Eikner had trained his men in the international Morse code on the signal lamp "with the idea that we might just have a need for them. I can recall some of the boys fussing about having to lug this old, outmoded equipment on D-Day. It was tripod-mounted, a dandy piece of equipment with a telescopic sight and a tracking device to stay lined up with a ship. We set it up in the middle of the shell-hole command post and found enough dry-cell batteries to get it going. We established communications and used the signal lamp to adjust the naval gunfire. It was really a lifesaver for us at a very critical moment."
USS Satterlee banged away at the machine-gun position. After a couple of adjustments, Satterlee's five-inch guns blew it off the cliffside. Eikner then used the lamp to ask for help in evacuating the wounded; a whaleboat came in but could not make it due to intense German fire.
The primary purpose of the rangers was not to kill Germans or take prisoners but to get those 155mm cannons. The tracks leading out of the casemates and the effort the Germans were made to dislodge the rangers indicated that they had to be around somewhere.
By 0815 there were about thirty-five rangers from D and E Companies at the perimeter roadblock. Within fifteen minutes another group of twelve from F Company joined up. Excellent soldiers, those rangers -- they immediately began patrolling.
There was a dirt road leading south (inland). It had heavy tracks. Sgts. Leonard Lomell and Jack Kuhn thought the missing guns might have made the tracks. They set out to investigate. At about 250 meters (one kilometer inland), Lomell abruptly stopped. He held his hand out to stop Kuhn, turned, and half whispered, "Jack, here they are. We've found 'em. Here are the goddamned guns."
Unbelievably, the well-camouflaged guns were set up in battery, ready to fire in the direction of Utah Beach, with piles of ammunition around them, but no Germans. Lomell spotted about a hundred Germans a hundred meters or so across an open field, apparently forming up. Evidently, they had pulled back during the bombardment, for fear of a stray shell setting off the ammunition dump, and were now preparing to man their guns, but they were in no hurry, for until their infantry drove off the rangers and reoccupied the observation post they could not fire with any accuracy.
Lomell never hesitated. "Give me your grenades, Jack," he said to Kuhn. "Cover me. I'm gonna fix 'em." He ran to the guns and set off thermite grenades in the recoil and traversing mechanisms of two of the guns, disabling them. He bashed in the sights of the third gun.
"Jack, we gotta get some more thermite grenades." He and Kuhn ran back to the highway, collected all of the thermite grenades from the rangers in the immediate area, returned to the battery, and disabled the other three guns.
Meanwhile Sgt. Frank Rupinski, leading a patrol of his own, had discovered a huge ammunition dump some distance south of the battery. It too was unguarded. Using high-explosive charges, the rangers detonated it. A tremendous explosion occurred as the shells and powder charges blew up, showering rocks, sand, leaves, and debris on Lomell and Kuhn. Unaware of Rupinski's patrol, Lomell and Kuhn assumed that a stray shell had hit the ammo dump. They withdrew as quickly as they could and sent word back to Rudder by runner that the guns had been found and destroyed.
And with that, the Rangers had completed their offensive mission. It was 0900. Just that quickly they were now on the defensive, isolated, with nothing heavier than 60mm mortars and BARS to defend themselves.
In the afternoon Rudder had Eikner send a message -- by his signal lamp and homing pigeon -- via the Satterlee: "Located Pointe-du-Hoc -- mission accomplished -- need ammunition and reinforcement -- many casualties."
Audio interviews by the Rangers describing the assult
Courtesy of the Eisenhower Center for American Studies, New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S.
Above Col. James Earl Rudder standing next to the signalling light.
An hour later Satterlee relayed a brief message from General Huebner: "No reinforcements available -- all rangers have landed [at Omaha]." The only reinforcements Rudder's men received in the next forty-eight hours were three paratroopers from the 101st who had been misdropped and who somehow made it through German lines to join the Rangers, and two platoons of rangers from Omaha. The first arrived at 2100. It was a force of twenty-three men led by Lt. Charles Parker. On the afternoon of June 7, Maj. Jack Street brought in a landing craft and took off wounded and prisoners. After putting them aboard an LST he took the craft to Omaha Beach and rounded up about twenty men from the 5th Ranger Battalion and brought them to Pointe-du-Hoc.
The Germans were as furious as disturbed hornets; they counterattacked the fortified area throughout the day, again that night, and through the next day. The Rangers were, in fact, under siege, their situation desperate. But as Sgt. Gene Elder recalled, they stayed calm and beat off every attack.
Lieutenant Vermeer said he could "still distinctly remember when it got to be twelve o'clock that night, because the 7th of June was my birthday. I felt that if I made it until midnight, I would survive the rest of the ordeal. It seemed like some of the fear left at that time."
The Rangers took heavy casualties. A number of them were taken, prisoner. By the end of the battle, only fifty of the more than two hundred rangers who had landed were still capable of fighting. But they never lost Pointe-du-Hoc.
Later, writers commented that it had all been a waste, since the guns had been withdrawn from the fortified area around Pointe-du-Hoc. That is wrong. Those guns were in working condition before Sergeant Lomell got to them. They had an abundance of ammunition. They were in range (they could lob their huge shells 25,000 meters) of the biggest targets in the world, the 5,000-plus ships in the Channel and the thousands of troops and equipment on Utah and Omaha Beaches.
Lieutenant Eikner was absolutely correct when he concluded his oral history, "Had we not been there we felt quite sure that those guns would have been put into operation and they would have brought much death and destruction down on our men on the beaches and our ships at sea. But by 0900 on D-Day morning the big guns had been put out of commission and the paved highway had been cut and we had roadblocks denying its use to the enemy. So by 09:00, our mission was accomplished. The rangers at Pointe-du-Hoc were the first American forces on D-Day to accomplish their mission and we are proud of that."
Finally, on the morning of June 8, they were relieved by the other companies of the 2nd, as well as the 5th Ranger Battalion, the 1st Battalion of the 116th Infantry, and tanks from the 743rd Tank Battalion.
Accounts from the rangers Copyright © 1998 Ambrose-Tubbs, Inc.
Converted for the Web with the permission of Simon & Schuster.
This text is from Chapter 8 of Stephen E. Ambrose's book
Photos from the USS Texas of the German POW's and injured soldiers brought back on the resupply on the 7th of June
After action report written, July 12, 1944, by LTC T.H. Trevor, British liaison officer to the General Staff Officer, Planning, Military Section, Combined Operations HQ.
Pointe du Hoc After D-Day
Photos from the USS Texas shore party inspecting the damage of the bombardment as well as the US Airforce